The TopOwl night vision helmet, developed by international defence supplier Thales Avionique, is being introduced into service with the Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter and with the MRH90 multi-role helicopter because it offers increased situational awareness, greater comfort and ease of operation over conventional night vision goggles. DSTO is assisting with the introduction by evaluating human visual performance when using the display.
One problem with conventional night vision goggle design is that the image intensifiers for these are mounted on the front of the pilot’s helmet, requiring rear counterweights for balance that add to the strain placed on the pilot’s neck. The TopOwl helmet by comparison, has its intensifiers mounted on either side of the helmet, eliminating the need for counterweights.
Another advantage of the TopOwl system is that the night vision imagery is projected onto the helmet faceplate where it can be integrated with flight symbology, meaning that the pilot can see the outside environment and monitor flight parameters at the same time.
However, there are concerns that the optical system for delivery of these combined views may be reducing the quality of the night vision imagery. This aspect of TopOwl’s performance is a major focus of the studies being done by DSTO.